In this issue, we learn the identity of the man we saw briefly in issue #268, who actually represents a milestone in Marvel Comics history, and has a fascinating connection to Captain America. Also, we see Bernie Rosenthal being a hero in her own right (and in her own way).
We begin with Steve and Bernie, discussing the state of their relationship, which has been on shaky ground—or shakier ground—since Bernie told Steve she loved him in issue #268 and he later ducked out on her in issue #269. When he starts to offer her the “I’m only protecting you” line, she is not having it.
The exposition below reminds us about Steve’s lack of experience with romantic relationships—at least with women not involved in international espionage—as well as his status as a “man out of time,” which makes adapting to “modern romance” even more difficult.
She sees his sincere “I don’t want to hurt you” and raises him with “I’m willing to take that chance,” asking him to trust that she knows what she’s getting into. (This echoes advice I’ve given often at Psychology Today to those who doubt they’re good enough for their partners and feel they’re only hurting them by continuing in a relationship.)
Now that we’ve settled that—for the time being, at least—let’s meet our mysterious stranger who, by now, probably knows way too much about Steve and Bernie’s love life.
Nice cover, Steve… and all the more impressive, considering the shock he must be experiencing. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that he was trying to find details about his forgotten life before receiving the Project Rebirth treatment, and since he started to uncover the truth in issue #247, we haven’t seen anybody from his past show up to make those memories even more real.
Bernie takes her cue, and Steve and Arnie take a walk…
…during which we learn that Arnie is not just “somebody” from Steve’s past (although their reflection in the window reminds Arnie just how much time had passed, more for one of them).
The ensuing flashback to their shared youth hits a couple welcome notes, including young Steve’s scrawniness and his love of art, as well as the effects on him of his mother’s death. (But… the lower east side, not Brooklyn?)
The last panel above not only explains how Arnie recognized Steve in issue #268 (which would have been more difficult had he not seen his “new and improved” friend in the 40s), but also how Arnie knew that the young boy he defended from bullies was now the Sentinel of Liberty.
Once back in Steve’s apartment, Arnie starts to open up about why he decided to approach him…
…and reveals an important personal detail, after which his old friend promises his immediate support.
As you can tell as much from his expressions (as drawn by Mike Zeck and John Beatty) as from his purposefully vague words (courtesy of J.M. DeMatteis), Arnie Roth is gay, one of Marvel’s first openly gay characters (preceded, most prominently, by Northstar of Alpha Flight, although he didn’t proclaim his sexual orientation until 1992), and certainly the first to be portrayed in a same-sex relationship.
While on their way, Arnie tells Cap that he fell into gambling and lost $50,000 to gangsters who are holding Michael hostage until they’re paid. However, as we see below, Cap’s unquestioning trust and optimism trigger Arnie’s sense of guilt, and he tells Cap what’s really going on.
Whether out of admiration for his friend’s honesty and his motives behind it, remembrance of their past together, or simply a lack of reason to do otherwise, Cap declines to hold a grudge, and assures Arnie that they will rescue his boyfriend.
Cap sends Arnie in first, where he confirms Michael is alive…
…after which Cap takes over, illustrated uniquely by Zeck and Beatty, with striking colors by Bob Sharen. (I get a strong Jim Aparo Batman vibe from the whole page.)
But he’s not finished, as the violet vision below shows up and grabs Arnie, the exposition affirming that a hero experiences fear, but overcomes it.
Not only does Cap experience fear, but occasionally he finds himself overpowered…
…but his resolve comes through in the end, presumably driven more by concern for Arnie and Michael than his own life.
That, and a mystery to be solved (however much he may hate them).
Arnie finds Michael upstairs, unconscious and perhaps dead, which for some reason seems to distract the purple behemoth enough for Cap to defeat it, only to be shocked by its last word and Arnie’s revelation.
Happily, Michael comes downstairs, his mind (soul? essence? Michael-ness?) having been restored, and he and Arnie embrace.
Meanwhile… Bernie had her own adventure while all of this was going on. After leaving Steve and Arnie, she took a walk of her own, pondering her problems with Steve and the strength of her feminist convictions, when she came across some kids harassing an older woman. After considering that she could simply walk away, she decides she can’t.
She drives the kids away, threatening then with a spanking, and getting a “blow it out you shorts” in return. (Brooklyn sure was rough back then!).
Bernie’s actions may not seem to be the epitome of courage, but remember that courage must be assessed relative to the person displaying it: What may not count as courageous for Steve Rogers can be quite courageous for Bernie Rosenthal, given her lack of training and battle experience. (Indeed, her actions may have been foolhardy had she seriously suspected the kids of having weapons, while Steve would have been right at home.)
Bernie’s courage continues as she accompanies the woman, named Olympia, home, experiencing despair for the conditions Olympia lives in, as well as a continued sense of fear…
…which, as it turns out, is completely justified. (Maybe she has Bernie-sense?) Nonetheless, she reacts with compassion rather than anger, defusing the situation with no injuries to either of them.
On the final page of this issue, Bernie and Steve reconnect after their day’s adventures, finding solace in each other’s arms, without revealing the challenges they each faced.
I find this very touching: We haven’t seen Steve reach out to anyone simply for comfort and companionship, including Bernie, until now. Is he finally realizing he doesn’t have to bear his oversized sense of responsibility alone? Wait and see!
Collected in Captain America Epic Collection: Monsters and Men.
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Captain America #269 (May 1982)
NEXT ISSUE: Captain America #271 (July 1982)